Before David “Davey” Bauer made history at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, United States, for a double lung transplant assisted by a pair of DD breast implants, he considered himself a fairly healthy guy.
The 34-year-old spent his hours off from his landscaping job in De Soto, Missouri – near St Louis – golfing, snowboarding and skateboarding.
Cigarettes, he thought, were the only negative.
A former smoker who went through a pack a day for four years, Bauer switched to vaping in 2014.
“I thought it seemed like a safer alternative,” he said.
“In hindsight, it seems like I should have just quit sooner ... it’s not good to inhale anything in your lungs, other than oxygen, obviously.”
So when Bauer entered an urgent care clinic outside of St Louis in April (2023) with the flu, he expected to recover fast.
“They were just like, ‘He’s got the flu, there’s a little bit of pneumonia in his lungs, here’s (some azithromycin), you’re good to go’,” Susan Gore, Bauer’s girlfriend of seven years, said at a news conference on Nov 8 (2023).
“And the next day he couldn’t walk.”
Supporting the heart
The flu had turned into a lung infection resistant to antibiotics.
On April 17 (2023), Bauer entered the intensive care unit at Saint Louis University (SLU) Hospital.
He was moved onto a ventilator, then into a medically-induced coma.
SLU Hospital refused to perform a lung transplant, saying Bauer was too sick to survive.
After the hospital called the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute in Chicago, Gore and Bauer relocated there in late May (2023).
Bauer’s surgery was “uncharted territory” for the programme, said the institute’s Lung Transplant Program medical director Dr Rade Tomic.
“We knew that to get him listed (for a transplant), we had to resolve the infection,” the pulmonary medicine specialist said.
“The only way to resolve the infection was actually taking the lungs out.”
The surgical team removed Bauer’s infected lungs and cleaned out his chest cavity.
To keep his body alive without lungs, the team needed to create channels for blood to flow in and out of his heart, said Canning Thoracic Institute director and thoracic surgery chief Dr Ankit Bharat.
That’s where a pair of DD breast implants came in.
“We needed something to support his heart, and the DD breast implants seemed to be the perfect fit,” Dr Bharat said during the news conference, as Bauer and Gore exchanged grins.
“And frankly, they were the biggest we could get at the time.”
With Bauer’s heart stabilised between the implants, surgeons created an artificial lung outside his body.
The thoracic surgery team collaborated with plastic surgeons for a “crash course” on working with breast implants.
After the fact, Bauer said he was able to laugh at his clinical cleavage, adopting the nickname “Double-D Davey”.
“I didn’t know much of it until after the fact,” he said at the news conference.
“I thought it was awesome. Kind of funny.”
“I was like, ‘You get boob implants, but I don’t?’,” Gore quipped.
A full recovery expected
Bauer was soon well enough to be listed for a double lung transplant.
Two new lungs were available within 24 hours, and both were installed May 28 (2023), at which point the implants were removed.
“I feel so blessed,” he said.
“I mean, it’s incredible. I got a second chance at life.”
His successful surgery was buoyed not only by the implants, but by good luck, Dr Bharat said.
It’s rare that two healthy lungs become available within 24 hours, and keeping Bauer stable between procedures – not to mention restarting his heart – was complicated.
Dr Bharat had expected that the temporary circulation system, with Bauer’s heart nestled between the breast implants, could keep him alive for about a month.
“We were really surprised how fast he recovered once we took out his infected lungs,” the surgeon said.
He hopes the procedure can be used again in the future to stabilise people who need a lung transplant, but are too sick to receive new organs immediately.
“This is the first time certainly, this technique was used,” the doctor said.
“It has taught us a lot, and hopefully, can be used for other patients.”
Bauer was placed on dialysis while he recovered, and developed foot drop – a nerve compression impacting the movement of his foot.
He also had myocarditis in the lining of his heart and still speaks through a tracheostomy tube in his throat.
Still, he is expected to make a full recovery, although he says he will never vape again.
“I feel a lot more like myself before all of this,” he said. “I’m getting better every day.”
Dr Tomic hopes that Bauer’s experience discourages patients from seeing vaping as a healthy substitute for cigarettes.
“We know that vaping can cause injury to the lungs, and also that flu can cause fatal outcomes, life-threatening infections,” he said.
Bauer was discharged from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in late September (2023).
He will remain in Chicago for another year in outpatient care.
A fundraiser supporting his recovery has raised just over US$34,000 (RM159,375) to date.
Bauer said he misses watching the (baseball team) St Louis Cardinals play at Busch Stadium.
He and Gore have settled in River North for the time being though, with dogs Penny and Bear.
“Home is where the heart is and this is my heart,” Gore said.
“So, this is where he is and this is where we are.” – By Ilana Arougheti/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service